Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised that this article contains references to and names of people who have died.
Perhaps most significantly, 2022 saw the death of Australia’s official head of state, Queen Elizabeth II in September, at 96 years of age, after a lengthy reign (70 years and 214 days, to be exact). While her legacy is complicated, her death did have an impact on the arts.
Other global leaders who died in 2022 were former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in March and former head of the USSR Mikhail Gorbachev in August (who presided over the Chernobyl meltdown and the collapse of the Soviet Union), while Australian global sports luminaries spin bowler Shane Warne died at 52, and wicketkeeper Rod Marsh at 74, both in the same month.
When it comes to the arts in Australia, the visual arts sector was particularly hard hit this year – more so than at any time during the decade I have been writing this column. The arts also saw the deaths of some incredible supporters this year, including Brian Sherman, Neil Balnaves and Baillieu (Bails) Myer, among others.
We raise a glass and honour their legacies.
Visual arts, craft and design sector
Archibald-winning artist Craig Ruddy dies from COVID-19 (1968–2022)
Byron Bay Hinterland artist Craig Ruddy died in January from complications of COVID-19. The five-time Archibald Prize finalist was known for his 2004 winning portrait of David Dalaithngu (Gulpilil). Ruddy only came to painting in 2001. He was 53.
Hossein Valamanesh (1949–2022)
Encapsulating visual poetry and object in sculpture and installation, Iranian-born Australian artist Hossein Valamanesh died in January after a heart attack, aged 72.
Ann Newmarch (1945–2022)
South Australian artist Ann Newmarch OAM is remembered for her innovative artistic techniques and as a political activist at the forefront of the feminist movement. She died peacefully in January.
Josh Muir (1992–2022)
Gunditjmara/Yorta Yorta and Barkindji man, Josh Muir died in February aged only 30. Known for vibrant prints and large-scale projections, he was a National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award winner, and his artworks have adorned Melbourne’s trams and the National Gallery of Victoria’s exterior, as well as the Richmond Football Club’s 2017 Indigenous guernsey. ABC obituary.
Peter Powditch (1942–2022)
From a household name in the 1970s, to an introvert living in the Byron hinterland for the past two decades, Peter Powditch was a painter and educator. His death in February did not come as a surprise; he was an asthmatic who loved smoking, and had suffered chronic emphysema for most of his adult life. He was 79.
Ken Whisson (1927–2022)
Painting fluently to the end, artist Ken Whisson works were distinctive. He leaves an incredible legacy of works over a career lasting over 60 years, and a spirit for making that has influenced many artists. The Victorian-born artist died at his home in Sydney at the end of February. He was 95.
Filippa Buttitta (1969–2022)
After a battle with terminal brain cancer, Sydney artist Filippa Buttitta died in March. Born to Italian immigrant parents, she was a portraitist and regular finalists in all the major prizes.
Petr Herel (1943–2022)
Petr Herel was a practising artist for over 60 years, and was best known for his printmaking and artist books. Born in Czechoslovakia, he moved to Australia in 1973 and became head of the Graphic Investigation Workshop at the Australian National University from 1979-1998. He died in April. State Library of Victoria obituary.
Yolŋgu artist and cultural leader Mr Wanambi (1962–2022)
The sudden death of Yirrkala’s Mulka Project founder, Mr W. Wanambi, shocked the sector. He was not only passionate about sharing Yolŋgu cultural knowledge in fresh and innovative ways, but played an incredible role in nurturing the next generation. He was primarily known for his bark paintings and larrakitj (memorial poles), but was also a curator, filmmaker and Cultural Director of the Mulka Project
Merran Esson (1950–2022)
Ceramicist Merran Esson left her mark throughout her 40-year career. Diagnosed in July 2020 with a brain tumour, Esson faced a battle that was in many ways very ‘everyday’, sharing her journey on social media, always surrounded by her family and never giving up her passion for making. She was 72.
Ms D Yunupiŋu, mother of the Rirratjiŋu nation (c.1945–2022)
The Yirrkala community lost Ms D. Yunupiŋu in June. She had a whirlwind of successes in her last two years with her vividly coloured, whimsical barks. Known as ‘the lady who paints mermaids’, she started painting in 2019, and by 2021 had became the first artist to ever be selected with a portrait on bark as a finalist for the Archibald Prize at the Art Gallery of NSW.
Brett Bailey (1947–2022)
Brett Bailey was the first artist that Art Atrium (gallerist Simon Chan) represented when it opened in 2009. He was a Wynne Prize finalist that year, and was particularly interested in an Asian influence on his vision of the Australian landscape. Bailey had battled cancer, and complications with a stroke and dementia settling.
China (Jane) de la Vega (–2022)
A graduate of UTS with a degree in communications majoring in creative writing and cultural studies (2004), China de la Vega was a visual artist who turned to raw materials for her abstraction impressions of landscapes – often pairing her artworks with words. She died with family by her side.
Graham Oldroyd (1953–2022)
With a passion for a global history of ceramics, Graham Oldroyd left a legacy from teaching to production to architectural works. He is most popularly known for his large ceramic mural in the Members’ Hall of new Parliament House, Canberra.
Mark Webb (1957–2022)
Artist and academic Mark Webb made a terrific and enduring impact on contemporary art making and independent artist-run activity in Queensland from the mid 1980s until his death. Remix obituary.
Peter Kingston (1943–2022)
In October, the visual arts sector said goodbye to painter Peter Kingston, known as a chronicler of Sydney Harbour. He was 79.
Mary Pridmore (c.1970s–2022)
Also in October, Tasmanian artist Mary Pridmore died just weeks out from the final exhibition of her life’s work. She had been diagnosed with motor neurone disease (MND) in 2020. ABC’s obituary.
Nicholas Harding (1956–2022)
Self-taught Australian painter Nicholas Harding died in early November after a long battle with cancer. Earlier this year he won the $50,000 Wynne Prize, presented by the Art Gallery of NSW. He was 66.
Les Blakebrough AM (1930–2022)
With the start of December, news came of the death of ceramicist Les Blakebrough, who changed the landscape of Australian ceramics, and impacted the medium globally with his creation of Southern Ice Porcelain. He also had a reputation for mentorship and craft advocacy. He was 92.
Andrew Best (1975–2022)
Andy Best was a multidisciplinary artist, working primarily in the areas of painting, sculpture, collage and contemporary photomedia. He was a graduate of South Australian School of Art and was co-founder of Downtown Art Space, an artist-run space in Adelaide.
Globally in the visual arts
- The celebrated US multidisciplinary artist Daniel Graham, known for his glass pavilions, died in February.
- Artist John Wesley, who worked across pop, minimalism and surrealism, died in his New York home in February, aged 93.
- Pop artist Claes Oldenburg, famed for reimagining art in public spaces, featuring mundane objects on a grand scale, died in July.
- Founder, CEO and Editor in Chief of Dezeen, Marcus Fairs died suddenly this year, aged 54.
- Japanese comic book artist, behind the hit manga series Yu-Gi-Oh!, Kazuki Takahashi, which spawned a media empire that included an anime TV series, films, video games and a card trading game, died in July.
- French abstract artist Pierre Soulages, who became known as the ‘Master of Black’ died in October; he was 102.
- Irish-American influential art critic and artist, Brian O’Doherty, died at 94.
- Visionary US photo-conceptualist Rodney Graham, died of cancer in October, aged 73.
- Hermann Nitsch, the provocative Austrian Actionist, known for using blood and animal carcasses in his work, died in April, aged 83.
- Cuban hard-edge abstract artist Carmen Herrera died in February. At 101 she had a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York (2016).
- Pioneer figure in the New York art world, sculptor Lee Bontecou died aged 91 in November.
- Japanese fashion designer, Issey Miyake, known for his boldly sculpted pleated pieces – and Steve Jobs’ black turtlenecks – died in August, aged 84.
- French fashion designer Manfred Thierry Mugler died January. Mugler was also a dancer, acrobat and body-builder.
- Pioneering fashion journalist André Leon Talley (Museum of Art’s Costume Institute, Interview magazine, The New York Times and Vogue) died in January.
- Photographer Steve Schapiro – whose work appeared in Time, Rolling Stone, Life, The New York Times magazine, Vanity Fair, Sports Illustrated and People – died in March.
Glenn Wheatley (1948–2022)
Brisbane-born Glenn Wheatley, whose long career in artist management and development saw him championing John Farnham and Delta Goodrem, died in February from complications caused by COVID-19. He was 74.
Andrew Ross AM (1947–2022)
A champion of Australian theatre, Western Australian director and artistic director Andrew Ross AM died in March after battling cancer for many years. He was 74.
Chris Bailey (1959–2022)
As singer with The Saints, Chris Bailey defined the sound of Australian punk and influenced a generation of young bands the world over. He died in April from throat cancer, aged 63.
Ken West (1958–2022)
Described as ‘the father of Australia’s alternative music festivals’, Ken West died in his sleep in April, aged 64. He was the founder of Australia’s iconic Big Day Out festival.
Max Riebl (1992–2022)
Australian countertenor Max Riebl died days after sharing news of his incurable cancer diagnosis on Facebook in May this year. He was 30. He performed with companies included Pinchgut Opera, the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra, Vienna Chamber Opera, La Cetra Baroque Orchestra, London Handel Orchestra, the Song Company and Orchestra Victoria.
Peter Brook (1925–2022)
In July, ever innovative British theatre director Peter Brook, who started his career with the Royal Shakespeare Company before presenting his work across the world (including in Australia) died, aged 97.
Archie Roach (1956–2022)
The great songman Archie Roach gave voice to the experiences of so many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. A member of the Stolen Generation, he died following a long illness. He survived a stroke in 2010, and was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2011. He was 56.
Olivia Newton-John (1948–2022)
An icon of screen and music, Olivia Newton-John was a versatile artist with an appeal that spanned generations. While best known for her role in Grease (1978), her first album If Not For You (1971) made her a household name in the UK and Australia. In 2020 she was appointed a Dame in the Queen’s New Year’s honours list. ONJ had a long battle with cancer. She died in August.
Judith Durham (1943–2022)
Also dying in August, was Judith Durham AO – singer, songwriter and musician of the Australian folk music group The Seekers. They were the first Australian pop music group to achieve major chart and sales success in the UK and the US, selling over 50 million records worldwide. Durham left the group in 1968 to pursue her solo career, before rejoining in later life. She died from complications of asthma and lung disease. She was 79.
Jack Charles (1943–2022)
Actor, storyteller, activist, musician and Boon Wurrung, Dja Dja Wurrung, Woiwurrung and Yorta Yorta elder, Jack Charles died, aged 79. Prime Minister Anthony Albanese paid immediate tribute. ‘He lived a hard life but leaves a joyous legacy… He uplifted our nation with his heart, his genius and his passion.’ A member of the Stolen Generation, he was a leading figure in the establishment of an Indigenous theatre in Australia, co-founding Nindethana Theatre at Melbourne’s Pram Factory in 1971, and appeared in over 40 films.
Shirley McKechnie (1926–2022)
The dancer Professor Shirley McKechnie AO was founder of one of the first contemporary dance schools in Australia in 1955, and a founder of the Australian Association for Dance Education (Ausdance, 1977). She was an incredible advocate and mentor for dance. She died in September, aged 96.
Sue Natrass AO (1941–2022)
Remembered as generous, down to earth and an immensely supportive mentor, Sue Natrass was an influential leader in the theatre sector. Her first gig was to operate the lighting board for Barry Humphries’ first one-man show, A Nice Night’s Entertainment in 1962. She went on to impact an entire sector. She was 81.
Globally in the performing arts
- For more than five decades, dancer and choreographer Yuriko Kikuchi, known professionally as Yuriko, was associated with the groundbreaking modern dance of Martha Graham. She died in March.
- Margaret Urlich, the New Zealand-born singer who performed alongside Daryl Braithwaite on The Horses, died from cancer, aged 57. She lived in Australia.
- Meat Loaf, whose Bat Out Of Hell album still sells 200,000 copies each year, died in January at 74.
- Rock ‘n’ roll musician Jerry Lee Lewis (Great Balls of Fire), died in October aged 87.
- US country music legend, Loretta Lynn died aged 90. She was the first woman to win the Country Music Association’s Entertainer of the Year Award.
- DH Peligro, drummer for punk rock icons the Dead Kennedys and formerly the Red Hot Chili Peppers, died in October from a head injury caused by a fall at home. He was 63.
- British guitarist Keith Levene, a founding member of The Clash and Public Image Limited, died in November; he was 65.
- Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins died suddenly in March at the age of 50.
- Fleetwood Mac vocalist, songwriter and keyboard player Christine McVie, died in November.
- Singer Julee Cruise, best known for her ethereal voice and collaborations with director David Lynch and composer Angelo Badalamenti, died in June.
- Rhythm guitarist Don Wilson, co-founder of The Ventures and the guitarist on the theme song for Hawaii Five-O, died in February.
- Lyricist Marilyn Bergman who, with husband Alan Bergman, earned three Oscars, four Emmys and two Grammys for their movies, television and Broadway soundtracks, died in January.
Writing and publishing
Jordie Albiston (1962–2022)
The poetry community was devastated when Jordie Albiston died in March, aged 60. Described as ‘a colossus in the poetry world’, she was a finalist in the Melbourne Prize for Literature in 2021.
Blaise van Hecke (1968–2022)
A well-respected figure in the publishing industry, and an avid ally of small press publishing in particular, Blaise van Hecke died suddenly in March. With over 10 years as co-founder and publisher of Melbourne-based Busybird Publishing, she was also a long-standing board member of the Small Press Network (SPN). She was just 53.
Globally in the literary sector
- British author and illustrator Raymond Briggs, who delighted with his picture books (The Snowman, When the Wind Blows and Fungus the Bogeyman), died in August aged 88.
- Julie Powell, the bestselling author of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, which later inspired the movie Julie & Julia, died from cardiac arrest, aged 49.
- Novelist Hilary Mantel, who won the first of her two Booker Prizes for Wolf Hall, died in September.
- Best-selling horror writer and poet Peter Straub known for his collaborations with Stephen King and novels that helped revive the supernatural genre, died in September.
- New York Times bestselling author PJ O’Rourke died in February.
Addendum: Since publishing, the sector also lost Robert Adamson, widely feted in his five-decade career as a poet, publisher and editor. Vale Robert Adamson, poet of the Hawkesbury River
Critics, arts manager and patrons
Baillieu Myer (1926–2022)
January saw the death of remarkable businessman and stalwart arts philanthropist, Sidney Baillieu (Bails) Myer. He died at home, aged 96. Myer was part of the famed Australian retail dynasty and was recognised for his extraordinary contribution to the arts through the Myer Foundation, as well as serving on the boards of the National Gallery of Victoria and the Victorian College of the Arts, and as Patron for the Foundation for Rural Regional Renewal and Asialink.
Neil Balnaves (1945–2022)
The art world was in shock with news in February that Neil Balnaves had died in a boating accident near Tahiti. The Adelaide-born, Mosman-based philanthropist was a former television executive (Southern Star production house). In 2010 he was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia. He was 77.
Suzanne Yanko (1948–2022)
Founder and Chief Editor of Classic Melbourne, Suzanne Yanko supported and advocated for Melbourne musicians. The author of several books, she was also a freelance journalist for The Age and Herald Sun, a broadcaster in Papua New Guinea, Australia and China, and a reviewer for ArtsHub. She struggled with Parkinson’s disease, which eventually released her in April this year. Classic Melbourne’s obituary.
Professor Virginia Spate (1937-2022)
The erudite Professor Virginia Spate AC FAHA was a giant in academic circles, and a gentle mentor of creative thinkers and managers. She was Power Professor of Fine Art and Director of the Power Institute at the University of Sydney (1978-2004). Spate was awarded a Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres in 2004, and was recognised with a Centenary Medal from the Australian Academy of the Humanities in 2001. She died in August, aged 85.
Gillian Helfgott (1932-2022)
Wife of Shine pianist David Helfgott, Gillian Helfgott was a renowned astrologer before dedicating her life to seeing David’s triumphant return to the concert stage after years in obscurity and incarceration in a mental institution. The Oscar-winning film Shine and Gillian’s New York Times best-selling autobiography, Love You to Bits and Pieces: Life with David Helfgott, brought their story to the world. She was 90, and died after a short illness.
Described as a brave dealer who championed conceptual art, gallerist Conny Dietzschold created an even playing field for Australian artists alongside international peers. Remembered for her flaming ‘bottle red’ hair, the Sydney gallery-dealer died in her homeland of Germany, after a long battle with cancer.
Brian Sherman AM (1943–2022)
Philanthropist Brian Sherman died in September after a battle with Parkinson’s disease for over a decade. He was 79. Sherman’s name was equally synonymous with the finance world, as the founder of Equitilink, joint Managing Director of Voiceless, advocating for animal protection and Director of Sherman Galleries (1986-2007), Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation (SCAF, 2008-2017) and Sherman Centre for Culture and Ideas (SCCI) with wife Gene Sherman. He was awarded the Order of Australia in 2004.
Angus Trumble (1964–2022)
October saw the sudden death of Angus Trumble, the former exuberant scholar who held the post of Director at the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra from 2014-2018. He was just 58.
An artist, arts writer, curator, art museum educator, program manager and policy developer, Robyn Daw held leadership roles at Craft Australia and Craft Queensland (now Artisan), Arts Queensland, National Gallery of Australia, QUT Art Museum and Queensland Art Gallery. Her passion was for textiles (she was herself a weaver at the Australian Tapestry Workshop in the 1980s), and she curated the 2001 edition of the Tamworth Fibre Textile Biennial. Obituary World Crafts Council Australia.
Janie Raffin, former General Manager of the Regional Galleries Association of NSW (the precursor organisation to Museums & Galleries of NSW), died in February. Her career started as Director of The Orange Civic Theatre Gallery, and she went on to achieve powerful things for the regional arts sector.
Susanne Briggs (1957–2022)
Sydney Arts publicist, Susanne Briggs died unexpectedly in May, aged 64. She was well-loved and respected by the arts community and arts media, having worked as Media Relations Manager at the Art Gallery of NSW (2005-2014), also at the Art Gallery of South Australia, and opened her own company in 2016 forming strong ties with The Mosman Art Gallery and Sydney’s Ensemble Theatre in Kirribilli. She was a Lifeline counsellor, and also supported animal welfare. Read Ensemble Theatre’s obituary.
ArtHub offers an apology for anyone missed across the arts, and invites you to contact us to amend this article.
Addendum: Thanks to those in the sector who have reached out to us with further vale honours. We list them here:
- Distinguished Canberra sculptor Jan Brown AM passed away at the age of 99 in January this year.
- Author Antigone Kefala died just a couple of weeks after being awarded the Patrick White Award.
- Nigel Butterley made an exceptional contribution to Australian music; he sadly joined the list of those who passed in 2022.
- Frank Moorhouse, author and essayist, who died in June at 83.